GP practices face wave of criticism on unofficial Facebook pages

GP practices should set up their own official Facebook pages to prevent un-moderated, unofficial pages being set up without their knowledge, researchers have warned.

Unofficial Facebook pages on GP practices are common and can become a hotbed for negative reviews, a study published in BJGP Open has found.

Practices need support to better understand meaningful uses of this technology and the potential risks of unofficial practice Facebook pages, the University of Keele researchers said.

Facebook pages should, as a minimum, act as a directory listing for the practice, but could also allow reviews or include an integrated booking system, they added.

The researchers found that patient use of practice Facebook pages was high, and patients seemed to engage more with official and unofficial Facebook pages than NHS Choices. They also found there were more reviews on practices on Facebook than on NHS Choices.

Social media

They looked at 83 GP practices in North Staffordshire, and found that 31 had official Facebook sites. Of those that did not, 79% were found to have an unofficial Facebook page.

Official pages tended to gather more ‘likes’ and positive reviews – but both official and unofficial were prominent in search results.

Unofficial pages were more likely to host negative feedback on practices, and were also sometimes vandalised for the non-intended purpose of advertising local businesses – having the potential to seriously damage a practice’s reputation if interpreted as being practice-endorsed.

‘Use of Facebook is variable but public engagement with pages suggests demand for this technology,’ the researchers said.

‘Risks associated with unofficial pages arise from their un-moderated status and can be mitigated by practices having official pages hosted by the practice with appropriate protocols in place for managing them.

‘With the internet and social media having almost seamless integration with many people’s everyday lives, there seems to be dissonance between the strong focus on patient-centred care and technology in UK NHS policy documents and the un-standardised and unclear use of Facebook by general practices.’

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